Monday, 30 August 2010

The Editor Has Changed My Work!

Maria contacted me recently to tell me that one of her articles has just been published in The Lady. So firstly, congratulations on your success, Maria! But when Maria read the piece, she noticed the editor had changed a few things, raising some questions including:
  1. The editor asked me to produce 1,500 words and agreed a price for that word count. She has now edited it down to less and changed the title without telling me. What should I do?
  2. Should she still pay me the agreed price for 1,500 words?
  3. Should I tell her that I am not so happy with the title and the editing?

 The simple answers to these questions are:
  1. Nothing.
  2. Yes.
  3. No.
 Let me explain further.

The editor asked me to produce 1,500 words and agreed a price for that word count. She has now edited it down to less and changed the title without telling me. What should I do?

Absolutely nothing. As long as you've delivered what was agreed, then you've done nothing wrong. When the time comes for an editor to use a piece they've commissioned, they may suddenly discover that there isn't as much space available as they thought. Perhaps the advertising department have done well and sold more advertising space. Perhaps, the picture editor has found an amazing image that would illustrate the article well, and to do it justice it needs to be a certain size. Perhaps a news item has just come in which needs space and your article is the easiest to cut. Perhaps the editor got out of bed the wrong side this morning.

There are numerous reasons why space for an article is cut and why an editor may need to edit a feature to make it fit the space available. As long as you've provided what the editor has asked for, then you have delivered your side of the contract.

Putting it bluntly, an editor is King (or Queen) at the magazine. Once you've delivered your text, the editor can do whatever he or she likes with it (within reason). And that includes the title. Titles are commonly changed. You need to title an article to grab the editor's attention and make them read it in the first place, but for the printed version in the magazine an editor may have better ideas. If you don't like the title they use, tough. Don't worry about it. If you want, try to learn from it. Is it better than yours? Why do you think the editor changed it? Does this new title follow a similar theme to the other titles in the same issue?

Look at the rewritten text too. Is it tighter? Does it read better? Has the editor cut a specific paragraph or subject from your article?

Maria finishes this question with, what should I do? And my answer is nothing. The only time it may be appropriate to contact the editor is if the changes made alter the FACTS of the article. If you said the theme park cost £20 for an adult to get in and the editor has changed it to £50, and after double-checking you know your facts are correct, then a polite (yes, polite, not a rant) email pointing this out may be appropriate.

Should she still pay me the agreed price for 1,500 words?

Yes. If that was what was agreed and you've delivered your side of the contract, then you should be paid, even if the editor only uses 100 words in the end. It's not your fault if the advertising department sold more space this month, which meant that your feature had to be cut, is it?

If you've been commissioned to write to a specific length on a specific topic, and the editor isn't happy with what you've supplied, then they'll be in touch asking you to amend the text.

Should I tell her that I am not so happy with the title and the editing?
No. What's that going to achieve? The editor may then decide not to accept any more of your work, if you're going to be one of those 'troublesome' writers. If you really do not like what the editor has done, then ask yourself if you want to supply anything to the magazine again in the future. That's your choice. But you need to accept that editors can change details. I've had editor change the names of the characters in a story, and one the other week, changed an Almond Slice to a piece of Carrot Cake! Lord knows why! But, that's what the editor chose to do. They paid me for my text, and to use a well-worn phrase, the editor's decision is final.

If you wish to continue writing for the magazine then examine the text and see what you can learn. One editor annoyed me at first, because they were always rewriting my opening paragraphs. But I soon learned that actually, my paragraphs were not quite right for the magazine's style. Once, I'd learned this, I began writing opening introductions that the editor did like, which meant she didn't need to change them. So, look at changes to your text as learning opportunities.

Remember, you are the supplier of words. Supply them to the best of your ability, but accept that some of them may be changed by an editor. (The clue is in the job title - they edit from time to time.)

I remember a friend from school who bought a well-known brand of cola because she liked it, but she always 'improved' it by adding more sugar. (I don't think she has any teeth left now.) Should the manufacturer have been knocking on her door telling her to stop playing out with their product? No, because at the end of the day, the customer is always right ... and an editor is your customer.

Good luck.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

What Are You Twittering On About?

Do you Twitter? Can you tell people in up to 140 characters what you're doing? Does anybody else care?

If you've heard about twittering, but are not sure what it involves, or if you've just started twittering and think you're talking gibberish, then nip over to Nicola Morgan's excellent blog Help I Need A Publisher.

She's recently begun a series of posts all about Twitter and how writers can use it to our advantage. I've found it useful so far, and thought some of you may be interested. For more information, follow the links:

Good luck!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Novel on Authonomy

For those of you who've been following my blog for sometime, you will remember that I spent part of last November and December, in the Lake District, editing my novel.

I've decided to use the authonomy website to preview the first 10,000 words, and allow readers to comment on it and (hopefully) recommend it, which will push it up the list. At the end of each month, the five most recommended texts get read by editorial staff at HarperCollins.

So, if you'd like to read the first 10,000 words of my novel, get yourself along to and then you'll really find out how my mind works!

Good luck!

(and thanks!)

Copyright or wrong?

Many writers get confused by copyright. Indeed, with legal staff specialising in this one small area of the law, it can instill fear and uncertainty in those who do not understand it.

However, for writers, understanding the basics will put you in good stead.

Copyright occurs as soon as you produce something artistic. (This can be something in writing, a drawing or picture, a photograph, some music, a video, etc). As I am typing this blog posting the copyright is being created. I don't have to register my copyright. Under current British and EU legislation, it is created as soon as I create something.

There is no copyright in facts, merely how they are expressed. And that's how I think of copyright. Copyright refers to the order of the words that you've written. You have the copyright in the sentences that you create and produce yourself.

As a copyright holder, you have the right to reproduce those words how and as you like, and you also have the right to give others the right to use those words. So, if you've written an article, you have copyright in that article, and therefore, you have the right to offer a magazine the right (First Serial Rights) to publish it. By retaining the copyright, you can also offer a website the right (Electronic rights) to use it on a website. You can offer a publisher the right to use the text in a book.

It is possible to assign (transfer) your copyright. This means that you no longer have the right to copy it yourself and offer rights to others to use it - the copyright holder now has that right. (So, if you transferred the copyright of some text you had produce to someone else, and you wanted to use the text again, you'd have to get permission from the copyright holder!) In many cases, writers should refrain from selling their copyright, so that they can continue to offer these other rights in their work. It is the copyright holder who has the authority to give others permission to use the work.

This also means that if you wish to quote someone else's work, you generally need permission and this should be sought from the copyright holder. The current UK and EU legislation does allow some 'fair use' quoting of someone else's work for specific purposes, such as critiquing or for review. However, the great British legal system has not defined what 'fair usage' is, because that depends upon each individual piece of work created. If a poem has 4 lines, and someone quoted 1 line, it begs the question - is quoting 25% of the text 'fair use'? A novelist would be upset if someone quoted 25% of their novel! This is why it can get tricky.

If you want to quote song lyrics, always get permission. Again, relatively speaking, songs are short pieces of text, so quoting one line could get you into trouble. There's an excellent article on The Guardian website about how one writer fell foul of copyright with song lyrics.

In the UK (and the EU), since 1st January 1996, copyright for writers lasts for 70 years after the end of the year of the death of the writer. So, if a writer died on 29th March 2010, their work remains in copyright until 31st December 2080. (Prior to 1996 it was 50 years after the writer's death.)

  • copyright is created as soon as you've created something artistic - written a series of words. You do not need to register copyright.
  • There is no copyright in facts - merely how those facts are explained.
  • There is no copyright in titles - however, some distinctive titles may be subject to other forms of legal protection, such as a trademark.
  • There is no copyright in ideas or plot. However, the more detail you give an idea or plot, the more specific you make it, the better.
I have literally touched the surface here (and not done the subject justice at all) but if I had gone into all the detail, I would be completely redefining what the length of a blog posting should be! But there are some excellent resources online that can offer further copyright guidance, including:

I hope that's been of some help.

Good luck.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Bill and Ted? Arthur and Stan? Or Marjorie and Delilah?

Whilst at Caerleon this year, I met Katey Nixon, who has put together a resource that will be useful to the short story writers amongst you.

Naming a character can be difficult, but you can add more credibility to your story if the name you select is one that was popular at the time of the character's birth. So, if you have a male character born around 1914, the most popular boy's name at that time was John. The sixth most popular name was Arthur. Fast forward to 2004 and the most popular boy's name was Jack, whereas the sixth most popular was Samuel.

Katey has placed all this information onto one Excel spreadsheet document, with one sheet dealing with boys names and another for girls. It lists the 100 most popular names (for boys and girls) for each DECADE of the 20th Century, and the same for each YEAR (up to and including 2008) of the 21st Century. It really is an amazing resource.

To obtain a copy of this spreadsheet, Katey is asking for a small £2 donation to a charity that she is keen to support. Her aim is to raise £400 for a charity called Hamlin Fistula UK, which aims to support women in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) who incur horrendous injuries during childbirth.

It's easy to do, simply visit Katey's page on the Just Giving website, which can be found at and click on the 'Donate Now' button. After donating, you'll be sent an email confirming your donation, and this will contain a link, enabling you to download the Excel Spreadsheet.

It's a worthwhile cause, and for the sake of a couple of pounds, you'll never be stuck for a first name ever again!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Even Editors Go On Holiday

Well, first of all, apologies for the slight delay in today's posting. Having returned from the Swanwick Writers Summer School at the weekend, all I've been doing is marking students' assignments. Some of you have been busy, whilst I've been away!

But this actually raises an important point. There are times when we need to remember that even editors go on holiday, so that may explain why they take so long to reply to our submissions.

Whilst I was at Swanwick, I had the opportunity to chat to Caroline Taggart. Caroline is the editor of the popular, Writers' Market UK, as well as the author of the immensely successful series of books published by Michael O'Mara that include My Grammar and I, I Used To Know That, and A Classical Education. Now, I have a submission that has been sitting on someone's desk for over four months now, so I asked Caroline when she would suggest that I approach them. And, of course, her answer was, "well, there's no point doing anything now. It's August. Everyone's on holiday."

And she's right. Making a gentle enquiry now could be a waste of time. If the editor is away on holiday, if someone is covering their desk or answering their phone, they probably won't know what I'm referring to. So there's little point in chasing. And there's no point in doing it at the beginning of September either, because, just like me, they'll be swamped and catching up with the work and emails whilst they were away.

So, next time you want to chase and editor, just stop and think for a while. What time of year is it? What are the chances that they'll actually be about? We all know what it's like getting back from a holiday and switching on the computer and watching hundreds, if not thousands, of emails fall confetti-like into our inbox. Try to chase at the quieter times of the year. You may get a better response!

Good luck!

Monday, 9 August 2010

Variety is the Spice of Life!

There's the old adage for writers to write about what you know, which will always stand us in good stead. I personally believe that you should also write about whatever you can find out! And at a workshop I was running at the Caerleon Writers Holiday, we also discussed the issue that writers need to get away from their desks and do something different from time to time. After all, this will give you something new to write about, whether you write non-fiction or fiction.

So, here's a list of things you could consider for each month of the year, to drag yourself away from your computer, to inspire you to write more. Please note that not every suggestion will be suitable for you, nor were some of the suggestions sensible, but this was the last workshop of the course and we'd all had a late night the night before!

  • Go stargazing. Watch out for meteor showers.
  • Plan your writing goals for the year ahead.
  • Go to a New Year's party.
  • Go to a Burn's Night supper
  • Hit the January Sales.
  • Make a snowman (or snow writer!)
  • Go to a Valentine's party. (Yes, one workshop attendee was very 'party orientated!)
  • Go to the Winter Writers Workshop Weekend at Fishguard, Wales. 
  • Browse the travel agents for a holiday.
  • Go in search of spring flowers.
  • Sign up to an Arvon Foundation course.
  • Have a St David's Day party!
  • Explore your home town as if you were a tourist. 
  • Do a day trip using only public transport. (One for the rural dwellers!)
  • Sign up for a charity event.
  • Do something mad - March Madness - book yourself of a pig rearing course!
  • Have an Easter party! 
  • Go on an Easter Egg Hunt
  • Go cloud spotting.
  • Visit and art gallery.
  • Go to the London Book Fair.
  • Run the London Marathon - or just go along and cheer on the runners.
  • Celebrate St George's Day (or not, depending upon where you live.)
  • Celebrate Shakespeare's birthday.
  • Go May Pole dancing!
  • Go to the Cheltenham Jazz Festival.
  • Visit the Asparagus Festival 
  • Look for May Blossom.
  • Look for other local customs and festivals taking place in your area.
  • Visit the Hay on Wye literary festival.
  • Midsummer's Day - get up early and watch the summer solstice. Go to Stonehenge, make friends with a druid!
  • Have a day at the races - got to Royal Ascot. 
  • Glastonbury Festival. Go for the mud, enjoy the sun?
  • Join a village cricket team.
  • Support a british player at Wimbledon. (won't keep you busy for too long!)
  • Go to the Caerleon Writers Holiday!
  • Join the kids on an organised activity day, when school has broken up.
  • Have a swimming pool party!
  • Go to the Ledbury Poetry festival.
  • Enjoy the Buxton Music Festival.
  • Go to the Cheltemham Music Festival.
  • Go swimming in the sea.
  • Another good opportunity to watch meteor showers.
  • Go to a folk festival.
  • Have a BBQ party!
  • Watch the hot air balloons at the Bristol Balloon Festival.
  • Instead of sitting at your desk, go and write sitting out in the garden.
  • Go on the Swanwick Writers Summer School.
  • Join everyone else on a day trip to the coast on Bank Holiday Monday. 
  • It's back to school for everyone - join a new evening class, on any subject.
  • Sign up for an Open University course.
  • Go Bat watching.
  • Help a farmer harvesting.
  • Spend a day topping up with new stationery!  
  • Go to the Cheltenham Literature festival
  • Have a Halloween party!
  • Visit an Arboretum.
  • Collect conkers.
  • Go trick or treating.
  • Have a bonfire night party!
  • Sign up for NaNoWriMo (write 50,000 words of your next novel in November.)
  • Go to one of the National Trust's "Putting the House To Bed" tours, where they show you how a large country house winds down for winter.
  • Go to a special Christmas Market.
  • Have a winter Pimms party!
  • Go on a spa break whilst others are dashing to do the Christmas shopping!
  • Watch a children's nativity play. 
As I said at the beginning, not every suggestion will be appropriate, but the message behind this post is this:

Try to do some thing different at least once a month.

Don't shut yourself away in your writing garret. Get out and do something. You never know what you may find yourself writing about next.

Good luck!

(and if anyone else has any other suggestions, comment below and share them with the rest of us.)

Monday, 2 August 2010

Magazines Can Make Mistakes

I've just returned from the Caerleon Writers Holiday where I've been running my Positively Productive Writer series of workshops. Short story writer, and Writers' Forum magazine columnist, Paula Williams, mentioned a wonderful incident concerning one of her short stories, which I just had to pass onto to you.

Paula had submitted a short story to one of the women's magazines, and one day, the postman returned it. Reading the rejection letter, Paula discovered that the editor felt her story was aimed at too young an audience and, therefore, was not right for the magazine's readership.

Two days later, a copy of the very same magazine arrived through her letterbox and guess what? Yes, in it was her story that was supposedly aimed at too young an audience! They'd published it! (It turned out that the rejection letter had been sent in error.)

An event like Caerleon enables writers to get together and share wonderful stories like this. One of the exercises I asked my workshop victims (I mean delegates) to do was to create a list of things writers can do throughout the year to keep themselves motivated and inspired to write. You can't shut yourself away in your garret forever, you have to get out there and do things. Next week, I'm doing just that - I'm at the Swanwick Writers Summer School but before I go, I'll post the list of ideas that we came up with - several for every month of the year, so there's no excuse!

In the meantime, I'll let a few of my workshop attendees explain exactly what a productive writer is ...

Good luck!